The Malawi Police Service (MPS) has instituted an inquiry into defilement, rape, torture and theft allegations against police officers in and around Msundwe, M’bwatalika and Mpingu trading centres in Lilongwe on October 9 2019.
This follows a statement issued on Wednesday by the Non-Governmental Organisation Gender Coordination Network (NGO-GCN) which stated that some police officers dispatched to the areas last Wednesday harassed women, defiled self-boarding girl students, tortured people and looted private property.
National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera said in an interview on Thursday the inquiry team, headed by Commissioner Arlene Baluwa, comprises professionals who will investigate the matter in a transparent and independent manner.
He said MPS has engaged experts from its Legal Office and the Professional Standards Unit, among others, to form the team of investigators.
Said Kadadzera: “We humbly appeal to members of the general public who have reliable information on the matter at hand to cooperate and share the information with the inquiry team. This will help us to conduct thorough, speedy and factual investigation.”
Asked on the independence and legitimacy of the team considering it is made of officers from within MPS, the National Police spokesperson said they welcome any organisation interested to take part in the investigation.
He said based on evidence, all suspects identified will be treated according to the laws of the land without favour.
Kadadzera added that the law enforcement agency shall at all times strive to fulfil its constitutional mandate of ensuring citizens safety.
“The MPS values impartiality, independence, professionalism, openness and accountability in the quest of creating a safe and secure nation. The nation will be updated on the progress and results of the investigation within the shortest period of time,” he said.
The MPS independence has been put to question in recent months, particularly with the lack of an independent body to check police conduct and hold it accountable where necessary.
In March this year, Parliament’s Public Appointments Committee (PAC), blamed the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) for not submitting names of people to be considered for appointment into the Independent Complaints Commission to investigate complaints by the public against MPS nine years after the Malawi Police Act proposed its establishment.
Then PAC chairperson Lingson Belekanyama said Chief Secretary to the Government Lloyd Muhara was better-placed to explain why the commission was yet to be set up.
Malawi Law Society (MLS) and some civil society organisations (CSOs) also observed that the absence of the commission was leading to impunity by the police.
Section 128 of the Police Act established the Independent Complaints Commission to receive and investigate complaints by the public against police officers and the service in general.
In its statement, the NGO-GCN demanded that President Peter Mutharika, as Commander-in-Chief of the Malawi Police Service, should ensure the police initiate thorough investigations and punish all culprits, adding that no one is above the law and the rule of law must be respected.
It further demanded that the Police Inspector General should institute a thorough and unimpeded investigation forthwith to ensure no-one is shielded, and they (investigations) reach a logical conclusion.
In an interview on Wednesday, Women Legal Resource Centre (Wolrec) executive director Maggie Kathewera Banda also called on relevant authorities to act on the issue, saying her organisation will do anything to ensure the perpetrators are brought to book.
She said: “If it means suing the concerned parties, we will do that. It is unbelievable that people that are supposed to be protectors are the ones doing violence.
“It seems it has become common for anyone to do as they wish towards women and girls. We will not accept a creation of a hostile environment for women.”
Following the Msundwe fracas, where an irate mob stoned to death Police Mobile Service Superintendent Usumani Imedi at Msundwe Trading Centre on the outskirts of Lilongwe City, police arrested 43 suspects but 39 have since been granted bail.